Shortlisted for the Nayef Al-Rodhan Book Prize.
A leading scholar explores what it means to dehumanize others—and how and why we do it.
“I wouldn’t have accepted that they were human beings. You would see an infant who’s just learning to smile, and it smiles at you, but you still kill it.” So a Hutu man explained to an incredulous researcher, when asked to recall how he felt slaughtering Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. Such statements are shocking, yet we recognize them; we hear their echoes in accounts of genocides, massacres, and pogroms throughout history. How do some people come to believe that their enemies are monsters, and therefore easy to kill?
In Making Monsters David Livingstone Smith offers a poignant meditation on the philosophical and psychological roots of dehumanization. Drawing on harrowing accounts of lynchings, Smith establishes what dehumanization is and what it isn’t. When we dehumanize our enemy, we hold two incongruous beliefs at the same time: we believe our enemy is at once subhuman and fully human. To call someone a monster, then, is not merely a resort to metaphor—dehumanization really does happen in our minds. Turning to an abundance of historical examples, Smith explores the relationship between dehumanization and racism, the psychology of hierarchy, what it means to regard others as human beings, and why dehumanizing others transforms them into something so terrifying that they must be destroyed.
Meticulous but highly readable, Making Monsters suggests that the process of dehumanization is deeply seated in our psychology. It is precisely because we are all human that we are vulnerable to the manipulations of those trading in the politics of demonization and violence.
No one is doing better work on the psychology of dehumanization than David Livingstone Smith, and he brings to bear an impressive depth and breadth of knowledge in psychology, philosophy, history, and anthropology. Making Monsters is a landmark achievement which will frame all future work on the psychology of dehumanization.
A fascinating and rich book that combines philosophical and historical sophistication. Even—indeed especially—those who disagree markedly with Smith’s views about dehumanization, like me, will benefit from wrestling with his lucid, important arguments.
Making Monsters is a wonderful book in so many ways. It is thoughtful, scholarly, and accessible, comprehensive and compelling—a tremendous accomplishment that will enrich our understanding of some of the darker part of our human condition.
Making Monsters is a historically informed and theoretically rich exploration of how and why we dehumanize one another. Scientifically sophisticated and interdisciplinary in scope, Smith’s vivid use of examples transforms his book from a valuable scholarly treatise into an urgent and timely manifesto.
If you’ve ever wondered “How could they?” David Livingstone Smith’s brilliant Making Monsters will help you understand the callous brutality of race crimes and the psychology of dehumanization. With a steady hand, Smith leads us through a wide swath of the worst of human crimes and distills into his own insightful account the research explaining the social and psychological mechanisms that enable ordinary people to do monstrous deeds. This illuminating book is a major contribution to the urgent project of understanding the psychology of dehumanization in the hope of preventing future atrocities.
Illuminating…It is cutting insights…along with thoughtful speculations on how dehumanization is nurtured—through racism, ideology, and the power of hierarchical structures—that makes this such an invaluable study, particularly at this time.
In this book, David Livingstone Smith’s concern is how human beings can come to conceive of other human beings ‘as subhuman creatures’—a phenomenon that is not limited to a single culture or a specific, isolated historical period…A very worthwhile read.
- 2023, Winner of the Joseph B. Gittler Award
- 352 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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